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Optimum situation

StudioCanal reels in Blighty distrib

France’s StudioCanal has acquired Optimum Releasing, the U.K. distrib founded seven years ago by Will Clarke.

Optimum is one of the leading players in the U.K. specialized biz, but its takeover by the French major will give it the resources to acquire and release bigger movies, particularly from the U.S.

Optimum will handle the U.K. distribution of StudioCanal’s sales roster, which covers projects from international auteurs including David Lynch and Wong Kar Wai.

Deal also puts StudioCanal in a stronger position to exploit its 5,000-title library, which includes 1,400 British movies, in the robust U.K. homevid market.

Although the structure of the takeover was not announced, it’s understood that StudioCanal has bought a majority stake in Optimum, with a timetable to buy out the rest of the shares over the next few years. Clarke himself is locked in for five years.

No price has been confirmed, but observers believe Optimum was valued at north of $30 million.

Optimum is a savvy niche player, handling foreign-language and English-speaking titles including “Amores perros,” “Elephant,” “Spirited Away,” “Wolf Creek” and “Fahrenheit 9/11,” its most successful release.

Its 2-year-old DVD arm has rapidly become the company’s engine room, distributing classic films, Asian titles and other World cinema.

StudioCanal, part of Vivendi’s Canal Plus Group, also runs its own French distribution operation and an international sales arm. Its acquisition of Optimum is its first step back into building a pan-European distribution network.

“Having two major territories, France and the U.K., makes a pretty powerful alliance for acquisitions,” Clarke said. “I’m sure sales companies will appreciate that we’re bringing a lot of firepower to the table.”

He said the focus for joint acquisitions was likely to be “very much on American-driven material that will work for both territories.”

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